By Ernest Barteldes
A Groupon deal convinced Renata and I to check out Sandy Hook, the New Jersey peninsula south of Staten Island (not to be confused with the Connecticut elementary school of the same name). We’d been pretty regular on Fire Island for the last few years, but this seemed like a good opportunity of getting to know another place to bake under the sun.
Sandy Hook stands on the grounds of a former military base (there is still an active Coast Guard base there) and even though it is legally part of New Jersey, the land is owned by the federal government and is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. That means that no New Jersey municipal or state laws apply there – so you can actually drink on the beach without the fear of getting a ticket. This is also the reason why Gunnison Beach is the sole clothing-optional beach in the state – all other Jersey Shore municipalities controversially put the kibosh on naturism (or even women going topless ) over a decade ago – something that probably won’t change since the law was unsuccessfully challenged in 2011.
There are two ways to access Sandy Hook – most drive and pay the $15 parking fee, but many take advantage of the seasonal ferry service provided by Seastreak from midtown and lower Manhattan – which is what we did. We woke up early on a Sunday morning and made our way to the Wall Street ferry pier, which is walking distance from Whitehall Terminal. The ride was short – about 40 minutes – and quite comfortable . Ferries are spacious and air-conditioned and offer free Wi-Fi service, all of which probably accounts for its steep $ 45 round-trip price.
We had bought a Groupon for a $ 25 round-trip, but we failed to notice that the deal was only for the first ride at 8:25 A.M., so our only choice was to pay the $ 20 difference and grumble as we boarded the ferry for the 11:00 ride.
When we arrived, we took a shuttle bus for the beach of our choice – our pick was Beach D, which has showers and more concessions than the other locations. There was a mixed crowd there, which included large families, couples and some young folk. It is quite a walk on the sand towards the water, but we found a nice spot and settled down. Not far from us a group played Latin music (I think they were streaming from Pandora since there were ads between some of the tunes) but it was at an acceptable volume – nothing like the annoying loud folk on Coney Island.
The beach was quite clean – I just thought it was strange that some sections of the beach were cordoned off, but later I found out that was done to protect an endangered species of birds called the piping plover that reproduce there. There are no bars or restaurants there, but several food trucks supply food for those who are either unprepared or who chose not to bring food. There are also restrooms and showers, but there are no trash cans anywhere, since the National Park Service maintains a carry-out policy for the area.
When we were there, there were three food trucks servicing beachgoers – I am not sure if they are regulars there or if they change them around throughout the season. Since we brought our own food in coolers, we didn’t have a chance to buy anything the trucks – however, they seemed to be doing a steady business.
On the way back the ride was a bit longer as the ferry dropped off passengers on E35th Street before heading to the Wall Street pier. However, it was nice looking at Brooklyn and Queens. Overall it was a nice experience that I hope to repeat in coming seasons. Sure, Fire Island is still our beach destination of choice, but considering that we saved so much more time getting to Sandy Hook; it will certainly be on our list for summers to come.
Cocktail recipe: New Jersey Squirrel
- Fill a shaker with ice cubes.
- Add 1 part almond liqueur.
- Add 2 parts applejack.
- Add 1 part lemon juice.
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
- Garnish with lemon.